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24 Miami Dolphins training camp stories in 24 days: Key players looking for new contracts

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Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are setting up 2020 to be a huge year for the franchise, with double-digit draft selections while projected to be among the leaders in cap space available heading into the year. In rebuilding the franchise’s foundation and trying to escape the mediocrity purgatory in which they have found themselves over the last 20 years, the team has looked to younger players to start forming the core around whom the team can be built.

Some of those key young players, however, are coming up on the end of their current contracts. This summer could be huge for them as they look to land an extension that guarantees them a job and salary for several years to come. After signing Xavien Howard to a contract extension this past spring, there are several players who should be in consideration for the next extensions to happen.

Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil is becoming an elite left tackle, playing a position that is critical to protecting the quarterback. The team exercised the fifth-year option in his first-round rookie contract, which keeps him under contract through 2020, but jumps his salary cap number from $4 million this year to over $10 million next season. Miami could look to bring down that number while giving Tunsil more guaranteed money and a signing bonus, keeping the player and the team happy. It makes sense for the Dolphins to lock up their lock down tackle, a move they could make this summer.

Running back Kenyan Drake is scheduled to hit free agency next spring. He is an enigma in terms of exactly what he brings to the offense, given how the last coaching staff did not seem to trust him to be a true “number one” running back. They signed Frank Gore to start over Drake, then turned to a platoon-style running game when Gore was injured. Drake seems to have all the tools to be a feature back, but he could also head into free agency with no 1,000-yard rushing seasons - and still land starting running back money. If the coaching staff believes Drake to be a multi-year starter, they should look to lock him up this summer and take away any chance of losing him in free agency. (Of course, there are “if” and “should” statements in that sentence, with Kalen Ballage and Myles Gaskin on the roster and, potentially, replacements for Drake if he were to leave in 2020.)

Offensive lineman Jesse Davis could also be on the radar as a player in need of a new contract. He will be a restricted free agent in 2020, so Miami could just choose to tender him, but he could also be a player the Dolphins look to sign long term. Davis played every snap on offense last year, the only player who can say that. He earned a $495,000 bonus for his play from the performance-based pay program and the veteran pool, and he looks to be in position to be either the starting right guard or kick out to right tackle this year. He is playing on an exclusive rights free agent tender right now, and Miami is believed to want to get a deal done with him.

Jakeem Grant will be an interesting one to watch. The speedster does not have the size of a typical outside wide receiver, but he has shown he can thrive in that role. He is an explosive player who could look to show the Dolphins’ new coaching staff that not only does he need a big role in the offense this year, but that the 26-year old needs to be in the long-term plans for Miami as well.

Brice Butler could also be in line for a new contract if he performs well this summer. In what appears to be a fairly deep wide receiver group, Butler will have to make an argument for jumping up the depth chart some, but he could be a player to solidify the receiving corps if some of the other players in the group are not in the future plans for the team.

Walt Aikens continues to be a solid depth option in the secondary and a good special teams player. Miami could look to sign him to a contract extension, just to make sure that (a) the special teams continue to have a leader and (b) they do not lose a player at a position they love - and clearly the Dolphins love safeties.

And, the Dolphins should re-sign John Denney because when you have an immortal playing long snapper for you, you always re-sign him.

Along with Tunsil, the Dolphins’ 2021 free agency group includes players like Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Kiko Alonso, DeVante Parker, Charles Harris, Raekwon McMillan, Cordrea Tankersley, Davon Godchaux, and Vincent Taylor, all of whom could also use this summer to prove they need to be in contract extension consideration as well.